Case details

Bus company failed to ensure safety of passengers: plaintiff





Result type

Not present

disfigurement, eye, face, facial, fracture, impairment, left eye, nose, orbital bone, scar, sensory, speech, strabismus, vision
On Oct. 27, 2013, plaintiff Lauren Guerra, 36, a life coach, was a passenger riding on the top deck of a double-decker, open-air, Starline tour bus that was chartered for a Halloween event. Passengers consumed alcohol that was brought on board the bus. While riding back to the pick-up/drop-off location, Guerra stood up to go downstairs in the bus and was struck in the face by a tree branch. She subsequently sustained to her face and eye. Guerra sued Starline Tours of Hollywood Inc. and Starline Tours USA Inc., alleging negligence. During trial, upon plaintiff’s counsel’s motion, Judge Mark Mooney Jr. ruled that Starline was a common carrier as a matter of law, even when operating a charter. Accordingly, Starline was subject to the “utmost standard of care.” Plaintiff’s counsel contended that evidence showed that Starline was well aware that passengers stand and dance on their party bus charters. Counsel also contended that Starline also knew that passengers were vulnerable when standing or even just sitting on the top deck of their buses. However, plaintiff’s counsel argued that Starline never told passengers on charter trips to remain seated and never warned them of the risk of overhead objects striking them. Counsel also argued that Starline did nothing to prevent its passengers from standing up on the top deck of the tour bus. In addition, counsel argued that although Starline was well aware of the substantial risk of passengers coming in contact with low-hanging overhead objects throughout the city, it failed to inspect the routes that its bus charters would be taken to ensure proper overhead clearance. Plaintiff’s counsel contended that the industry standard is for the company operating the charter to map out the route to be taken and to check the safety of that route. Thus, counsel argued that given the vulnerability of passengers on the top deck, Starline should have checked to ensure clearance from overhead objects on the route, but that Starline failed to ensure the safety of its passengers. The plaintiff’s commercial motor carrier safety compliance and training expert testified that a driver is responsible for the safety of passengers and that the driver of the Starline bus should have pulled over when there were safety concerns. The expert also testified that drivers should be trained to a level of proficiency required for the type of vehicle they would be driving, but that in this case, Starline had no documentation to show that the driver of the bus was proficient in operating a double-decker bus. In addition the plaintiff’s expert testified that it is common practice for the driver on charter trips to get everyone’s attention and to make a safety announcement, prior to embarking on the trip, to make passengers aware of the rules and any points of concern. However, in this case, the driver made no such announcement. Defense counsel argued that Guerra was intoxicated and should have known better than to stand up on the moving bus., Guerra sustained a blow-out fracture of her left eye’s orbital bone when her face collided with the tree branch. She subsequently required multiple surgeries, including a surgery to repair the orbital fracture and three surgeries to mitigate the resulting strabismus (misalignment of her eyes). However, Guerra was allegedly left with permanent . She claimed the strabismus caused permanent double vision with intermittent single vision only if she holds her head in a particular position. Guerra claimed that holding her head in a particular position in order to see single vision leads to neck and shoulder pain. She claimed she is unable to look down with her left eye, as movement in that eye is restricted, and that the misalignment of her eyes is still visible. The plaintiff’s doctors concluded that it is impossible to restore full functionality to Guerra’s left eye. They opined that the risks of further surgical intervention outweigh the potential benefits and that as a result, Guerra will suffer from double-vision from the strabismus for the rest of her life. The plaintiff’s expert ophthalmologist testified that Guerra would suffer from restrictive strabismus and resulting double vision for the rest of her life. The plaintiff’s expert orthopedic surgeon testified that by constantly having to hold her head in a particular position in order to have intermittent single vision, Guerra’s neck and shoulders sustain abnormal stress and pain. Thus, Guerra sought recovery of $16,000 in past medical costs for out-of-pocket expenses owed for the surgeries. No claim for lost earnings was made. She also sought recovery of damages for her past and future pain and suffering.
Superior Court of Los Angeles County, Los Angeles, CA

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